Every Time a Toastmasters Club Does This, a Kitten Dies

“I see something in you,” I mutter. I make a pause to finish chewing a piece of steak and swallow it. “But I still don’t know, what it is!”

I’m in Steakarna, Holesovice, a steak restaurant in my neighborhood.

I’m sitting inside, with a plate in front of me, chewing on a rib-eye steak and looking at a larger-than life image of a cow, highlighting different kinds of beef cuts.

If there was someone else in the “Steakarna” restaurant, they might have thought strange things of me. But there isn’t, and so I’m free to keep rehearsing Dananjaya’s Hettiarachchi’s 2014 winning speech. I’m working on memorizing it for the past week, as part of my preparation for this year’s contest season. And today, I will deliver it – online – in my corporate Toastmasters club. I can tell you, I’m excited.

Before getting back home, I drop by at the florist and buy the key props – two roses.

When I get back to my desk, I cut the flowers at the top of their stems and prepare a little box to work as an improvised trash bin for an online audience. This is going to be awesome.

Before opening my work email, I rehearse the speech once more, this time in front of a webcam, with the roses and everything.

The Toastmasters meeting starts in 50 minutes, just the right time to “do some emails”. I remember to let the Toastmaster know that my speech will be a “remake” of someone else’s, and that it’s important she mentions it. The response arrives in a minute – and it’s a cold shower.

“Actually, not enough people signed up for the meeting, so we’re cancelling it. Sorry if you were looking forward to it.”

I look at my two roses. It would be such a shame to waste them.

I reply: “Hey, there’s you and there’s Peter who confirmed attending. Let’s just meet the three of us and practice – I have a cool speech I’d like to test.”

The response comes in another minute: “Actually, I can’t attend either. Gotta help a colleague with something.”

I pick up the roses and throw them into the trash. Just without an audience.

What a letdown.

Look, I don’t want to be a drama queen.

There are more important things than Toastmasters, something else can get a priority, life happens and blabla.

But let me make one thing clear: Every time a Toastmasters meeting gets cancelled, a kitten dies. And if it’s you who cancels it… Well then, you know who’s responsible.

Online meetings are easy to cancel. But canceling meetings creates problems. When a meeting is on the schedule, there may be people looking forward to it (regular members) or curious about it (a guest who just decided to check out what a Toastmasters meeting looks like).

When you cancel it: You disappoint them. And when you disappoint people, you’re risking they won’t come back.

Here are some things my club’s officer team could have differently:

  • Assign a Toastmaster who could commit to the meeting (sticking to it except for cases of fire or health emergency)
  • Two weeks in advance start seeking out people to attend the meeting.
  • If this was showing difficult by just reaching to the members, they could have asked the few who signed up for the meeting to help out by inviting friends (which is actually easier in the online world)
  • If the situation looked dire two days (or one day max) before the meeting, check-in with the people who signed up for it and decide whether to cancel it
  • One day before the meeting at the latest, communicate the cancellation

Don’t take me working – even if they did all this and cancelled the meeting, a kitten would have died. You could even say that kittens die every day, that’s just how the world is.

But cancelling a meeting less than an hour before it is supposed to start simply adds – to something already sad and unpleasant – a load of avoidable suffering.

Further reading: More on the topic of minimum number of people needed for a Toastmasters meeting in the post When to Cancel a Toastmasters Meeting.

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